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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Obama backs Safe Schools and Student Non-Discrimination bills
From news releases
2012-04-20

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NEW YORK - April 20, 2012 - Today, on GLSEN's 17th annual Day of Silence, the White House released the following statement of support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act:

"The President and his Administration have taken many steps to address the issue of bullying. He is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, introduced by Senator Franken and Congressman Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment."

The following statements are fromGay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard and GLSEN National Board member Sirdeaner Walker:

"Today's announcement is a vital show of support to students everywhere of all identities, backgrounds and beliefs who face bullying and harassment in school," said Byard. "By speaking out on GLSEN's Day of Silence in support of these two critical bills, the President has given greater hope to students who often feel that they have nowhere to turn. It is deeply moving to know that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who face the multiple threats of harassment, violence and discrimination have the President as an ally in their efforts to win all of the protections that they deserve."

"Today is a day that I have hoped for since I began my work as an anti-bullying advocate after losing my son Carl," said Walker. "I believe that President Obama's explicit endorsement of the Safe Schools Improvement Act will make a tremendous difference in moving this issue forward. Having met with the President three times, I knew his support for SSIA and the Student Non-Discrimination Act was genuine. But stating that publicly on GLSEN's Day of Silence pushes it to a whole new level. While nothing can bring Carl back, I know that these bills can make a real difference to end the bullying and harassment that is faced by too many other sons and daughters today."

GLSEN, the, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org .

More comments

Lambda Legal released the following statement by Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director of Lambda Legal:

"We applaud the Obama administration for endorsing this critical piece of legislation. We thank Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Jared Polis, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Tammy Baldwin and over 50 other current sponsors for their leadership on this bill and we urge Congress to pass it.

"At Lambda Legal, we've encountered extraordinary cases of violence and discrimination against LGBT young people in schools - and sometimes against the allies who try to support them. The Student Non-Discrimination Act takes a big step toward a safer and healthier environment in every public school.

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students have long been at a significant disadvantage without specific protection under federal law. All students have a right to a safe learning environment, and this law will leave no doubt as to public schools' responsibility to provide it."

The Human Rights Campaign applauded Obama for announcing his support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act ( SNDA ) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act ( SSIA ) .

"The President's endorsement of the SNDA and SSIA recognizes the importance of providing LGBT students with the same civil rights protections as other students," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "No student should feel scared when walking into their school and these bills would address the discrimination and bullying that our youth have endured for far too long."

SNDA is sponsored by Sen. Al Franken ( D-MN ) in the Senate and Rep. Jared Polis ( D-CO ) in the House of Representatives. SNDA would prohibit public elementary and secondary schools from discriminating against any student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. SSIA is sponsored by Sens. Robert Casey ( D-PA ) and Mark Kirk ( R-IL ) in the Senate and by Rep. Linda Sanchez ( D-CA ) in the House. The bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the first time the President has expressed his support for either piece of legislation.

Discrimination and bullying against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity contributes to high dropout rates, absenteeism, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement. When left unchecked, such discrimination can lead to, and has led to, dangerous situations for young people. Federal statutory and/or constitutional protections expressly address discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex and disability, but do not expressly address sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, students and parents have limited legal recourse to redress for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Despite recent inaccurate criticisms of the bill by Heather Wilson, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in New Mexico, the SNDA does not inhibit constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and expression for individuals and student groups. Language in SNDA recognizes that nothing in the Act alters the legal standards and rights available to individuals or religious and other student groups under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act. SNDA prohibits discrimination, including severe, persistent or pervasive harassment; it does not prevent an individual or organization from expressing disagreement with an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.

STATEMENT FROM U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY ARNE DUNCAN ON THE STUDENT NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT AND THE SAFE SCHOOLS IMPROVEMENT ACT

"Bullying can no longer be seen as a normal rite of passage. As a country, we must all work together to take action against bullying and improve the safety climates of our schools and communities. That's why I support the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I would like to thank Sen. Al Franken, Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Linda Sanchez for introducing these bills and for their commitment to putting an end to bullying, discrimination and harassment in our nation's schools. I also want to thank Rep. Danny Davis for his leadership on this issue to help keep every student safe and learning."


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